Monday, December 11, 2006

GRINCHING

It seems a long while back now that we first heard tell of the FAI's uberplan for domestic football. Whilst sharing the obligatory fantipathy towards the residents of 80 Merrion Square, my gut instincts are telling me that this is the only way forward for football in this country.

When I say 'this country' it is with the belief that the way forward for the game on this island is an All Ireland league; but that is a toothache for another time. Can we honestly say that we are leaving anything worthwhile behind us? Last one to leave locks the door, then throw the expletive deleted key away. We do not ever want to return to that place.

Already there is worthwhile dialogue taking place between club managers and FAI officials; the standardised players' contracts are in the offing, prize money is up, up, up - and the public are being treated to 50 live TV games. Yes 50! This would have been the stuff of drug-addled fantasy for eL lifers in recent times.

The grinches will point to the FAI's less than exemplary performances in various fields over the years. Concerns re. their policing of the UEFA Licensing system, which culminated in the Rocky Horror Show at Dublin City still abound. There is a general air of impending carnage whenever those three letters are printed bold on anything to do with our cherished league competition.

To deny these reservations would be akin to sticking my head up Pat Dolan's rear aperture; and for varying reasons I have chosen not to do that. Yes the situation is an imperfect one; but who else was offering to take our struggling league in hand. Nobody.

What have we got to lose? Most of our clubs are struggling to survive financially. We are walking the tightrope of professionalism without a safety net. If we can push it on just a little more, it can become a nubile proposition for the people with deep pockets, and if professional football in this country is to succeed, it needs sweet money.

This is a new league- a clean slate. We're starting again, with the clubs best prepared for the task ahead on board. Of course everyone involved with Dundalk wants their club to be a part of the top tier. Of course Waterford fans want to see their team at football's apex. But we can only have the top 12.

It's what was agreed by EVERY club. EVERY club knew that winning a league, or a play off was not going to guarantee you a place at the table. So the bleatings of injustice are to be ignored. Dundalk finished ahead of Galway United; Galway United make the top tier, the Louthmen do not. EVERYBODY knew that this could be the case. League position alone would not do it for a club. This is not news to anybody who has followed these issues.

True it runs counter to what we love about football; but this is critical surgery for our game. A firm hand is needed on the tiller, and conformity from clubs will help to soothe the waters. We must support this for the sake of our game.

It's only for one season, then we're back to promotion and relegation; life as we know it. And did it make last season's on pitch dramas any less rivetting? Not for my money. There remains the 'meaningless play off' grinching.

The team that won the play off are officially regarded as 12th place finishers in the league. Each club was alloted points based on their finishing position in the 2006 competition. So, a 12th place finish was worth more points than a 13th placed one. Thus, more points for the play off winners, in pursuit of an overall points total high enough to open the gates of Premier football next season. Except in this case, Dundalk's overall total was still not high enough. So they don't make it. That seems easy to understand.

So in the words of Shirley Temple from the cool Playstation ad - 'Get On Board' - and support these efforts.

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